Monday, January 25, 2016

Tu B'Shevat Celebration: Ideas for the Trees

Happy Tu B'Shevat!  I hope that everyone is having a lovely day celebrating the birthday of the trees.  I t hoght that this year I would go a little out side the 'norm' and not talk about the traditional seder or the eating of extra fruits this year, but rather help our little ones to feel a bit more connected to the trees, mother earth, and their power to impact our world.   Here are a few ideas for birthday presents for the trees:

1. CLEAN UP:  This can be as easy as taking a stroll through your own neighborhood and picking up trash, or as complicated as hiking through the forest.  No one wants to live somewhere dirty, and that includes the trees!  Help our children think of giving the trees the birthday present of a clean piece of dirt (oxymoron anyone).



2. USE LESS WATER:  Of course here in sunny SoCal we've been talking about this for months, but on the birthday of the trees it can be an important point of discussion to understand how a tree grows.  Of course at the end of the day we know the answer is through G-d, but the discussion can still explain how we plant the seed in the ground, give it soil and water and sun, and how it grows to give us shade and food.  Water is one of the most important things a tree needs to survive.  If we use less of it in our homes on ourselves, there is more for the trees!

3. USE LESS PAPER:  This is an especially important concept to introduce as children are young because the habits they form now as they are potty training and learning social manners become habits that are hard to break.  It's hard for a young child to understand that paper towels and toilet paper, not to mention coloring paper, etc. all come from trees.  So begin this discussion around Tu B'Shevat that each piece of paper is part of a tree.  If we use less, then the trees get that many more birthdays to celebrate!  Remind your child when that piece of paper isn't good enough for coloring, that it came from a tree.  And remember yourself as you craft away- crafting is great if it teaches something and engages your child, but sometimes it might be better to leave the paper goods alone....



4. RECYCLE YOUR WATER:  This might seem strange, but there are so many times when we are using water inefficiently.  When you are waiting for the shower to warm-up or the bath.  When you are doing dishes.  All of these times are places where we can recycle our water.  The easiest is when you wait for the bath or shower, since we haven't even used this water yet.  Take it outside, let the kids water the plants with it.


If we present the ideas to our children that the trees deserve birthday gifts too, it's an easy and fun way for our children to impact the world beyond themselves.

Hope you have a fun and exciting Tu B'Shevat!

Photos Creative Commons License via Flickr 1. gfpeck  2. by karolajnat

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Jewish Parenting University

New this year Shalom Family, a division of the Jewish Federation and Family Services, will be hosting a series of classes called Jewish Parenting University.  It's for expectant parents, new parents, and parents of children under 5.  


SERIES BEGINS THIS WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 20
SPACE IS LIMITED!


Designed for expectant and new parents, Jewish Parenting University is a Jewish peer parenting group focusing on an exploration of Jewish traditions and rituals connected to parenting through a Jewish lens. Guest facilitators and OC professionals will be discussing life cycle rituals, raising a Jewish mensch, and celebrating holidays and festivals in meaningful ways. Open to new parents, expectant parents, and parents with children 5 and under.

3-Part Series including:            
Wednesday, January 20 – Life Cycle Rituals with Rabbi Marcia Tilchin
Wednesday, January 27 – Raising a Jewish Mensch with Rabbi Marcia Tilchin and Tammy Keces, Principal & Lead Secular Educator of Irvine Hebrew Day School
Wednesday, February 3 – Celebrating Holidays & Festivals in Meaningful Ways with Rabbi Marcia Tilchin and Rabbi Stuart Light, TVT Community Day School

6:00 p.m. Kosher Dinner; 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. Session 


Childcare available upon request and provided by College Nannies & Tutors.

I know a couple of people going to the class, so hopefully I'll be able to convince them to maybe write up a few guests posts with some more information about the classes, and how the whole series was.  This is the first time they are offering this, and if you are at all interested, I highly recommend supporting the program.  

If we want programs like this to be offered as part of Shalom Family and JFFS then it's important that we attend and encourage them to keep hosting them.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Happy Birthday Mom- visiting a grave site

Today was my mother's birthday.  So the whole family made the trip all the way up to the cemetery to go and see her.  There were lots of groups there today- a few funerals, but lots of family groups visiting their loved ones.  However, despite all the activity, we were definitely the only group with children.  Especially young, little, tiny children.

I've tried to explain as best I can to my girls what it means to them that Grandma died.  We've had way, way, way to much death for their little short lives.  But, of course, it really doesn't matter when they learn about it, because it's going to happen eventually no matter what I have to say about the matter.

Jewish tradition doesn't put much stock in visiting the grave site of a loved one.  That's not to say it's not done on the memorial day, or on holy days, but it's sort of seen as a few and far between thing.  Judaism is all about acknowledging the pain, but keeping yourself in the present.  Additionally there is some worry that you could turn your deceased relative into some sort of deity by 'praying to them' at their grave site.  I only think it's interesting because the grave sites of many Rabbi's have become internationally known places to go and pray, not to mention the western wall, which is sort of like the grave site of the temple, no?

But moving on....

It can be sort of tricky to explain to a three year old why you are visiting your dead mother.  The conversation goes something like this....

EG: Where are we going Mom?

Me: To visit Grandma Judy.

EG:  Oh, okay.  Why are we visiting her?

ME: Because today is her birthday, and it's nice to go there to see her.

EG: But mom she can't see us.

ME: Well, I believe she can see us.  I know it's sort of confusing, but there are really two parts to each person.  Your physical body, the part you can touch, and a part we call your soul, which is inside of you that you can't touch.  Grandma Judy is with G-d, and G-d is everywhere, so she can see us.

EG: But Mom, G-d doesn't have eyes...

ME: Well, no he doesn't.  Do you remember the song from school?  Up Up, down down, right left and all around, here there and everywhere that's where he can be found... see, G-d is everywhere.  And so is Grandma Judy.

EG: Look Mom- my shoe won't go on right.

Thank goodness she usually gets distracted before I have to get to far into the conversation.  I'm not afraid to talk about death or G-d or, really, anything with my daughter.  But putting all these confusing topics into words is really hard.  Trying to help her understand.  This is the same girl who is worried about her missing front tooth because it can't see where to go, so she's trying to show it with her own eyes.

Then we get to the graveside.  We wander around looking for appropriate rocks.  One of these days/yahrtzeits I'm going to remember to have her look in advance and paint the rock to leave at the grave site. I think that would be a wonderful and nice tribute to my mom...but I digress.

There we are, with two little tinnies, who are rearranging rocks, adding pine cones, playing literally on my mothers stone.  I know Mom wouldn't mind, but that isn't how the other mourners felt.  We've got no one sitting in black, both of my kids are loud, and pointing out butterflies.  While Working Dad and I are a little subdued, neither of us are trying to shush the kiddos.

At the end of the day these children are her legacy.  They along with their cousins are all that is left in the world of her spirit, and I think they honor her to know where she is, to visit her and maybe connect with her and G-d.  I know that she would love to hear their sweet voices, even their sad cries and tears.  So I choose not to be upset by the fact that some others might not like it.  Let them mourn in their way, and we'll mourn in ours... loudly- with butterflies.

I've been on the search for some books to help with the subject, and the first one I come upon is this one:

It's like a sign from my mom, because she totally LOVED Dr. Laura. In fact she used to listen to her radio program every day, and when I got married the first thing she did was buy me her books about the care and feeding of a hubbie and marriage.

But then I kept looking, because one book might not be enough.  You never know what might click with a kiddo.  Then I found this one...

This is my mother's second favorite author.  And I'm so happy.  It's like G-d is speaking to me through Amazon tonight.  To show me these books, by these authors, because my daughter has questions about her Grandma.

Here's hoping these books with help us answer some of these questions.  Do you have any good books you go to?  Any good thoughts about how to talk to little ones about G-d and graves and death?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

5 Reasons Rainy Days are Awesome

It can be hard to be a mother on a rainy day.  When you pretty much know that all the plans you had for the park, or the playdates are out the window.  When you realize that your crazy children, who need to burn off some steam, aren't going to be getting that running time you thought they would.

Maybe you are different than me, but my house doesn't have a large multipurpose room, nor does it have a running track inside for the kiddos to leap around...

But just because it's raining, doesn't mean all hope is lost for an amazing, or at least tolerable, day.

1. They will likely sleep in.  Think about how you feel when you wake up and it's raining.  It's gloomy and dark outside- if you have curtains you would probably swear it's still the middle of the night.  That soft sound of the rain pitter-pattering just filters into your subconscious, taking away any of the excess sounds of the day or morning.  The birds are sleeping in, or at least hiding from the rain.  The annoying dog who barks at 7am is still inside, waking up it's owners, rather than you... I think it's a wonderful way to start the morning.

2. Free-play leads to creativity.  When your kids are at home for an extended period of time, it might finally allow them some of the unled totally unstructured freeplay that they need.  There have been so many studies recently that discuss the needs of our children when it comes to play.  That they need to have not just recess, but serious time to devote to whatever makes them happy.  This can seem challenging, especially when they want you to 'play' to, but it's important for our children to take the lead. The many hours of a day of rain can help give your kids that opportunity.

3. Family-play leads to fun memories.  I know I just said that you should let your kiddos play by themselves, but let's also consider the wonderful opportunity to do that activity that usually takes to long.  Baking cookies or a pie.  Building a huge tent fort.  Maybe you finally take out all 14 sets of blocks you have and build the larges block tower ever- go for that world record!  These types of experiences are hard to come by, between the errands, the preschool class, etc.... the obligations of life.  Here's baby Ocho (not quite a baby anymore) helping bake.... and making a lovely mess of it too!


4. Rain play is awesome and totally fun.  This is the plan when the kiddos wake up.  No shoes, pants or shorts with rain jackets.  Out to the park will go we.  To enjoy all that rainy weather has to offer.  Puddles and mud and earthworms.  And I know, you are worried about colds, and laundry and all the other things.  But I promise it will be okay.  No, I'm not a doctor, but an hour or two enjoying the rain and the mud won't give your kid a cold.  Plus it's fun to jump into the bubble bath when you are done in the rain anyways!

5. Watching Nature at work.  If going outside seems like it's to scary or crazy for you, at least make sure the kids stand at an open window or door for a bit.  Watch the water go by.  Grab an umbrella and stand underneath it.  Listen to the sounds of nature.  Rain storms are a perfect time for your children to see G-d in action. To understand that G-d has an impact on the world in a physical way.  Sometimes we forget that G-d gives us the sun, but it's so much easier to see when the world is covered in gray and rain.

At the very least, the rain won't last forever.  And there are MILLIONS of posts and ideas about how to occupy your kids in the house in the rain.  So jump online or pinterest to see all those crazy ideas too.  Just remember that rather than "the man who bumped his head and couldn't get up in the morning," the next time you see rain think "raindrops are falling on my head, but that dosen't mean my eyes will soon be turning red"

Here's to rainy days!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

5 Tips to Get to the Gym

Since it's January, it's officially get back inside the gym month in America.  Are you one of the 15% of people who have vowed to add going to the gym to your resolutions?  Called 'resolutionaires" 25 percent is the typical increase in usage during the month of January.  Which also corresponds to the additional  About 15 percent of people who make New Year's resolutions vow to get fit, WebMD reports.  "Usage can increase by 25 percent during January," Lisa Hufcut, director of public relations of New York Sports Clubs, told The Huffington Post.

1. Buy cute clothes!  When you look your best you also feel your best.  It's hard to want to get up and go to the gym when you are feeling like you look terrible and hate everything you put on.  Reward yourself for getting started by buying something that you like, look good in, and helps you find some joy in the process of getting there.


My personal favorite is Old Navy.  They are good clothes, good prices and a wide variety for different activities.  I know it seems ridiculous, but do pay a bit of atention to the different styles of gear.  The last thing you want is to be in a pair of yoga pants on a cycle bike... Trust me...

2. Get good shower products.  This sort of follows along the first line, but I think it's even more critical.  There's nothing more rewarding than completing that run on the treadmill or that workout you had in mind than getting into the shower and putting that wonderful conditioner in your hair.  For me my two splurges are LUSH products and Bumble and Bumble.  When I step into that shower (yes, the grimy one that everyone else uses) I get to turn it into my own personal spa retreat.  Now is a great time to stock up on LUSH since they are having their annual BOGO sale.

3. Get the class times on your schedule.  Sometimes you don't want to just run on the treadmill.  Sometimes you don't have the time to make a plan for yourself at the gym.  And sometimes you really want to put anything else in front of going to the gym.  Take a proactive step on all of these problems by putting classes on your schedule.  I'm not going to lie to you- January is probably one of the WORST time to try out a new class.  They will be crowded and packed with all sorts of people who are starting off on their resolutions.  But sometimes that can be good.  It means that the teachers are ready for newbies- it means more explanations, rather than watching 30 people get tons of equipment while you have no idea what's going on.  Don't be afraid, JUMP IN!

4. Don't skimp on shoes and socks. I know we've discussed gym gear earlier, but I think it's even more important to talk specifically about shoes and socks.  Your workout shoes might be one of the most expensive pairs you buy.  And it's critical to buy the right pair of shoes for the right workout.  Running on trails is totally diffferent than cross training or doing the treadmill.  When you have the wrong shoe you could end up with food injuries that might hamper your path to a fun workout.  And for a moment, let's talk about socks.  There's a reason why Coach Wooden always started there.  Nothing is more annoying than being all ready to go, but no socks to find or wear.  Seriously!

5. Get the kids enrolled in the Childcare.  Need I say more here.  Okay, maybe I'm the only one who uses the gym because it means that there are two hours of time that my children are otherwise occupied and I get to shower alone.  But it's a great way for them to stay social, do some crafts (our gym does one almost every time they go!) and get a bit of time to explore the world themselves.  And for me, sitting in the hottub at the end of a workout- I get to be a better mom.  With some time apart I'm ready for the hours before nap and after dinner.

If all these suggestions aren't ringing your bell, or don't have quite enough for you, try the PACTapp.  I've never used it myself, but the concept seems fairly simple.  Just like work- do it and get paid, don't and forfiet the cash.  Might be just the extra motivation you need.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Here's to 2016.... OMG a Goal Post



I've never really enjoyed seeing everyone write out their goals for 2016.  It's quite possibly because I've found so much more meaning in the same idea, but for Rosh Hashana.  This year, however, I'm writing out some things that I plan to do.

Instead of thinking of them as goals, I'm thinking of them as public proclamations to help keep me honest.  So here goes...

1. WHOLE 30: Starting today I'm jumping on the WHOLE 30 bandwagon.  Yes, it's January 1, which is probably the most typical and ridiculous day to start the program.  But I don't care.  It's time for me to figure out my GI issues, and to really think about my food intake.  When Working Dad moved down here to Orange County without me I took a big jump off the deep end being alone each night with nothing but food and chores.  So now I'm finally ready and settled enough to give it a go.

2. BUY A HOUSE!  That's right folks, I have a determined plan to buy a house.  We've been homeless now for over half a year, and I'm ready for it to end.  I'm ready to be unpacking all those boxes of things I haven't seen in way to long (like all the shoes that were EG's that Ocho desperately needs!)

3. VACATION WITH MY HUSBAND:  Yup, sionara kiddos, I'm ready to get the heck out of dodge and find some us time.  It's been hard for us to not have a space of our own for so long.  To long.  But that's the breaks of the game.  It's time to unwind, reconnect and remember all the things we love about each other, why we got married and what we need to do to keep it going.  We had a rough year last year, but let's move on.

4. MAKE NEW FRIENDS:  Along with moving to a new place, comes making new friends (I'm looking at you unknown anonymous reader!)  It's tough to move to new places, and I've started the process here in south OC (Hi MOMS Club) but it's an ongoing continuous cycle of events to meet new people and get in touch.

5. FAMILY VACATION:  We, all four of us, need to get gone.  Ideally someplace outside of the continental US, but I'll settle for a few good camping trips.  It's so much fun to see us outside of our 'natural habitat (though I'm not sure we have one of those anymore...) and it's important for us to take time to reconnect.

6. BE IN TOUCH WITH MYSELF: I need to honor my own ideas and thoughts this year.  And that's all I'm going to say about that.  Between me, G-d, and this little line here, hopefully I can take it forward.

7.  LAUNCH MY NEW WEBSITE:  That's what the big announcement was going to be last year.  Let's get it done!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

My how the time flies

Wow- I can't believe it's already December 31st.  That 2015 has been coming to an end.  And it's been moving so quickly.

2015 has been a complicated year for us.  Though Ocho was born in 2014 and my mom also died in 2014 it seems like 2015 has really been the year of change.

  • We've moved out of our first home, and still not into our new one.
The home that made us a family.  The place we brought home our two baby girls and enjoyed all the things that being a family had to offer.  Where I discovered my love (and modicum of talent) for designing and decorating, and EG learned to walk, run and jump.  Where Ocho had her first night of sleep, and the last place my Mother saw my whole family together...

  • We both changed jobs, me twice and Working Dad once.
I left my job at UCLA formally in April, and became a Searching-For-Work mom.  Then I decided to become a freelancer, taking contract positions as they've come to me.  Working Dad left the job he got after his brief spell of unemployment.  He's started at the new company and is loving it.
  • We've dealt with huge family upsets and changes, from my Dad and cousins, to his brother.  Both positive and negative... (here's one of the great moments!)

  • EG went from being a toddler to being a full fledged preschooler.  My adorable little girl, growing up so quickly.
  • And Susanna from a baby to a toddler... What a wonderful child she is becoming.
  • We moved our entire family into two different temporary homes. 
We moved in initially with my Dad, but then found space with Working Dad's Grandfather.  It's been wonderful to live with him, and we're blessed that we've been so so so welcome here.  Nothing beats sharing a Popsicle with your Great-Grandfather.  He even does babysitting duty!




  • We moved our lovely cat into two different temporary homes.  (on another note, anyone looking for a lovely, sweet cat?)
  • We took our first whole family vacation- internationally to Mexico with Club Med. 
  • We had my Sister-in-Law for dinner for the first time.  See above about moving the cat out of the house, hence her able to visit!
  • We lost my cousin, one of the most amazing people I know, Brett Tashman.
He fought for 5 years to be better, and fought hard.  We spent many days at the hospital with him before he passed, and confirmed the love we've had for these forever friends.  His death was a resounding blow to our whole world.



2015 was a complicated and wonderful year.  I'm glad it's over, and am hopeful for the future.  Despite my mother's passing being in 2014, it seemed like so much of 2015 was living the first of many things without her.  I know that much of 2016 will feel like the world without Brett, but I'm hopeful that maybe the pain of their loss will be able to slowly dissipate.

Becoming a family of four has included a lot of growing pains, and I'm especially glad that those are finished.  We've melded and blended together in 2015.  We've created the Millers, family of four.  We've accomplished a lot, and had a LOT of challenges.  But we've faced them all. 

Here's to 2016.... ready or not, here it comes.
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